For all the squawking the media did about President Donald Trump and his supposed threat to the First Amendment, a quiet strain of counter-narrative went largely uncovered: Press experts actually considered Trump a big improvement over Obama when it came to transparency. After eight years of dealing with one of the most secretive, closed-off presidents in U.S. history, the White House press corps were actually delighted to have a president who went out of his way to answer their questions. Sure, they had their problems with both Trump and his press staff when it came to the honesty of their answers (or at least what they perceived as such), but they couldn’t argue that the Trump administration was hiding from their questions.
Unfortunately, it seems that President Joe Biden and his staffers learned more from Obama than from Trump. While White House Press Secretary Jen “I’ll Circle Back” Psaki has been dutifully holding daily press briefings, her forthrightness is somewhat suspect – especially considering the kinds of softballs she’s been getting from the media. And now we have this story from the Daily Beast which suggests that things may be even worse than they seemed:
If you’re a reporter with a tough question for the White House press secretary, Joe Biden’s staff wouldn’t mind knowing about it in advance.
According to three sources with knowledge of the matter, as well as written communications reviewed by The Daily Beast, the new president’s communications staff have already on occasion probed reporters to see what questions they plan on asking new White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki when called upon during briefings.
The requests prompted concerns among the White House press corps, whose members, like many reporters, are sensitive to the perception that they are coordinating with political communications staffers.
One reporter raised the issue during an informal White House Correspondents Association Zoom call last Friday. According to multiple sources, leaders at the meeting advised print reporters to push back against requests by the White House press team to learn of questions in advance, or simply to not respond to the Biden team’s inquiries.
According to the report, one White House correspondent said, “While it’s a relief to see briefings return, particularly with a commitment to factual information, the press can’t really do its job in the briefing room if the White House is picking and choosing the questions they want. That’s not really a free press at all.”
Can we file this in the “Be Careful What You Wish For” basket, yet?